The opportunity for progress
THIS CHAPTER FOCUSES ON:
By 1957, Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was already a bestselling author of children's books. But it was the imposition of a stringent constraint that would lead him to pen a book that has sold more than ten million copies around the world. A 1954 article in Life magazine had criticized the insipid fare on offer in the American classrooms of the time, “pallid primers [with] abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls,” and recommended that some of the “wonderfully imaginative geniuses among children's illustrators” be given the opportunity to do something new. William Spaulding, then head of Houghton Mifflin's education division, invited Geisel to dinner to ask him to “write me a story that first-graders can't put down.”
The added requirement came later, in the form of a list of words that Geisel was to use. Phonics was the new wave in education at the time, teaching children the sounds that letters and groups of letters make so that they could figure out unfamiliar words themselves. Spaulding wanted a story written using a vocabulary of just 225 specific words. Geisel responded first as a victim:
At first I thought it was impossible and ridiculous, and I was about to get out of the whole ...